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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  January 15, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with barkhad abdi is a breakout role in "captain phillips" is putting him in the center of many lists and then we will turn to a conversation with lupita nyong'o , another talent making her first movie, the film "12 years a slave." runnerconsidered a front for the oscar nominations when they are announced this week. we are glad you have joined us. for these young actors coming up right now.
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station. from viewers like you. thank you. tavis: somali born barkhad abdi answered an open casting call in minneapolis and one over 100s and hundreds of hopefuls be part of a desperate pirate in "captain phillips," which stars
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tom hanks. this is his first film and he has earned reviews for his work and he is considered one of the front runners for a best supporting actor nod. the film is opening in a thousand more theaters and it comes out on dvd next week. let's take a look at a scene from "captain phillips." [shouting] >> it's all right. it's all right. >> over here. >> we have a problem. we pushed the ship too hard. we are off the grid. the computer is off-line. the ship is broken. >> captain, we don't play no games. >> the ship is broken.
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we had to go -- >> nobody gets hurt. hey! look at me. >> sure. >> i am the captain now. saying, he must hear this all the time, he said indeed. everywhere he goes, people say -- >> i am the captain now. [laughter] tavis: it is a great line. look at me. i am the captain now. a great film and a great line. everybody loved it. i don't want to color this question too much. i want you to tell me the story. take me back to minneapolis. how did you hear about the casting call? you me the story of how first heard about this and ended them hanging out with tom hanks. so, i am at my friends house hanging out. we were watching tv.
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there was a commercial, tom hanks, a casting call for a film. coming to my neighborhood. like two days after that day. so i was like, i am going. i thought about it and i went there. it was a huge crowd. more than 700 people. about 1000. i was there and that first you fill out the paper, write your name and they asked me simple questions. they assigned me to a character. they gave me part of a script to study. come back. the so i came back the next day. then we had tod be in groups of four for the admission. -- for the audition. i found three of my buddies.
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we are in the same neighborhood. we are almost like brothers. we each had different characters. we decided to form our own group. we auditioned that day. it was not that good but we went home and practiced. we came back. we auditioned more. silence as aeks of group. two weeks of silence, we did not know. after that we got a phone call from francine, the casting director. she told us all green grass wants to meet us -- paul greengrass wants to meet us in l.a. we met the director at santa monica. that is when he told us we got the part. tavis: all four of you got hired? man, i did not know that. you just happen to run into your buddies and you all had
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different parts. you started rehearsing together. paul greengrass signed all four of you. wow. thathen you got the part, you play so well in the movie, when you started reading it, give me some sense about what you thought about the character when you started reading the part you had been given. >> he was a ruthless guy but he ad -- you know, there was motivation. i am from somalia myself. i was born in somalia. i left when i was seven years old, after the war. so i look at him like somebody that was unfortunate, not to have parents like i did, to get me out and see this thing is the only way out. about thingsstuff in front of him, so he is just going all out.
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when he finds it is an american ship, it is the only way out. at the same time, he does not want to kill. he is a complex character. tavis: had you ever given any thought to being an actor? what were your dreams prior to hanging out with your friends' eve he commercial? -- with your friends and seeing the tv commercial? >> i love films and i love to stories. working on music videos. i had my camera. we were shooting music videos. short films. stuff like that. but i was not an actor. tavis: you are in a creative field, just not as an actor. i'm trying to jump ahead, you come to l.a. and you see paul greengrass, he hires you and
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your buddies. everybody has his role. fast forward and tell me what it was like, when you met tom hanks. hanks, atand tom about a month and a half of training. boats, i had to learn had to stand still on a skip that was going fast. had to dolearn weapons, fighting. all of the step we really needed to be like the native pirates, how comfortable they are. tavis: a lot of training and rehearsal. >> and i had to learn how to swim. tavis: i heard you a little bit dishonest. [laughter] filling out the form.
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you wanted this role and i can understand why. i would want to be in the too. they asked if you could swim and you said yes but you really could not swim. >> i could not swim. [laughter] tavis: so when you started training and rehearsing, did that become an issue? it was like i wanted to learn how to swim so i had to. i wanted to do this part. that was the scary part. when i got the part. that is when i got worried. can i do it? if i do not do it correctly, it is not going to come out. so it was a month and a half, we were training daily. the ocean was there. and we managedre to learn how to swim. tavis: so when?
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did you meet mr. hanks? >> -- so when did you meet mr. hanks? >> paul told us you are not meeting tom until the first time in the scene, the first time your acting together in character. so we did not go meet tom. that scene, that is the first time i actually see him. it was nerve-racking for me. that was the same scene i did the audition for. i became the character. paul called me down and i became the character. tavis: was this the scene we saw? >> yes. tavis: same scene. hold up. wait a minute. i'm trying to follow the story. i understand why paul greengrass , a brilliant director, why he did what he did.
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tom hanks is the nicest guy in the world. to be buddy-ant buddy. you had to get in his face. he is such a nice guy. i am laughing inside because the very first time you meet this matter but lacked or tom hanks, you have a gun in his face and you are telling him, -- this venerable actor tom hanks, you have a gun in his face and you're telling him, i am the captain. that takes a lot of nerve. [laughter] did you enjoy the experience? when i saw this movie and discovered you were going to come on our show, it seems like it was a lot of hard work to make this happen. did you have fun? >> i can tell you i had a lot of fun. it was more like an adventure. , a neway was new obstacle. a new way to find out. so it was fun.
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with my buddies there. in a different country. it was fun. but it was hard work at the same time. tavis: i can imagine. so when you saw the finished product, what did you think? >> it was beyond exciting. it was a great moment. because i would not watch the scene after i did it. so watching the movie together. tavis: you waited until the end to see it. you did not look at the dailies. >> i passed on that. the director was fine with it. if the director is happy, you will take it. do you want to do more acting would you want to get back to your camera? >> i want to do more acting. i want to see what else i can do. tavis: it is a great story. and hollywood is phil of the stories. you do not hear them all the time but every now again
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somebody answers the call and they happen to have the talent and the timing is right and before you know it, they are on everybody's list of great performances. congratulations. good to have you on the program. the movie is "captain phillips" and if you have not seen it, it is a great film and i encourage you to see it. mr. abdi does a magnificent job. you will not be let down. i can ensure you. congratulations and all the best to you. i hope to see you again when they further down the road. a conversation with actress lupita nyong'o. stay with us. ours: we continue conversations with actors tonight making their mark in their first film. lupita nyong'o won the role of patsey, the slave in the movie "12 years a slave."
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other actresses, she is now nominated for every major acting award this ease from the golden globes, including a possible upcoming oscar nomination. the film won a golden globe for best drama and is opening in more theaters in the coming weeks. let's take a look at a scene from "12 years a slave." to the plantation. >> you admit it. >> freely. you know why? for mrs. shaw. to i don't even have no soap clean with. i stink so much i make myself gag. 500 pounds of cotton day in, day out. or than any man here. and for that i will be clean. how are you holding up?
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>> i'm good. i am doing well. i'm enjoying myself. trying to absorb as much as i can. tavis: how are you processing all of this? definitely look at people around me and asked me whether this is happening from time to time. it is a very busy time. i am almost on autopilot. nots: for those who have heard, you have been everywhere these days. as you should be. be, take mecame to back one more time and tell me where you were and how this role came your way. >> i was just about to graduate from the yell school of drama and my manager received a script . she thought it would be good for patsey. she had me go on tape in new york and then i was in l.a. one week later.
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she had the casting office see my work. and then francine, the casting director, put me through a one- and then two weeks later i was invited down to louisiana to audition for steve. three auditions in three states. onis: when you saw patsey the page, what did you think? >> i was heartbroken. when i read her story. of sympathy. sense i felt sorry for her. i realized i had a lot of work to do in order to be able to actually play her. playing somebody sympathetically is a judgment of their situation rather than an advocacy of what they are fighting for. so i had my work cut out for me. i had a gut reaction to her. there was something i understood that i did not understand in my head. i know that is something actors
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have spoken of in the past with certain roles. was so excited to feel that and not understand it and then to go about trying to find how to play her and understand her. peopleso clearly young can do this. persons younger than you have been nominated in the past. the young folks can act. but what is fascinating about givenaracter, patsey, your young age, and i hear that thing about the gut, but what did you draw on because this is .uch a gutwrenching role it is so passionate and so volatile. all of that. so much comes out of this character. that is what you go to acting school for but where did you pull from not having lived that much life to bring this to life
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4s? >> i don't believe we are as individual as we think as human beings. what makes us able to empathize is a connection that is not necessarily understood mentally. and that is what makes cinema possible. we have a room full of people empathizing with people on the screen and going through what they're going through emotionally. that have something to do with it. more than the span of our lives lets us understand. and i think actors have more access to that than other people. because that is our profession. but it was in the script, it was in the autobiography, clues as to who this woman was. loftiness.n air of had she been born in a different time, she would have been a leader among men.
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these were the clues of for quality that i really cherished and of course i did research and my training came in very handy. one of the reasons why i went to school was because i felt i was acting off of instinct but sometimes that is not reliable. when you're not feeling it, what do you do? going to grad school was about getting the tools to use my instrument to the best of my ability. so i honestly don't think i could have done this without that kind of training. having the tools to devise a character other than myself. tavis: we will see how playing this character will impact and affect your career. i am curious as to how connecting with patsey has changed you as a person. not as an actor. >> a lot. you know, one of the qualities of patsey was that she was very
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present and she had to be because of the volatile nature of her master. he could do anything at any time and she had to be ready. she had to be ready to act and react. that is a quality that can playing her, being thrown into this role with this group of people was very intimidating. i suffered from a lot of self- doubt. i thought steve was going to call me and fire me or tell me he had made a mistake. finding theout confidence and comfort in the discomfort. just being present every day. not being overwhelmed. being overwhelmed with the magnitude of the project but just the day today, what can i do today to prepare for patsey? that is what got me through. that quality is something that i
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think is keeping me alive this award season as well. being in the present moment and letting the future worry about itself. tavis: when i first read your story, what you were doing when all of this came to fruition for you, the first thought, we discussed this on a radio program, i thought of my friends of our burden. when he student at usc was in the "roots" series. both of you were in school, and you get a chance to break out. var aboutlked to lab this. he was not intimidated, or how he dealt with intimidation. you spoke of your intimidation and how you thought steve mcqueen may fire you. how did you come to term with the intimidation? >> that is why the training at yale prepared me for.
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i had felt those feeling senate three years to deal with this -- do withn and those feelings and i had three years to deal with that intimidation. i remember having a classmate crying because they felt like a failure and in the evening, there was a production and my how fabulous they were. that is comfort and that self- doubt, that fear, that is what keeps us curious, and it keeps us searching for truth and with integrity. as actors. remembering that was helpful. then i have experienced those feelings. and then i get on the set and i get to louisiana and i have my first rehearsal with michael. michael turned to me after our first reading and said, you are my peer. that was so relieving, to come from his mouth. and yeah, you know.
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[laughter] tavis: you knew him well. >> and those things. the confidence of stephen michael and everyone else i meant who embraced me. had me moreely relaxed and focusing on what was important, which was her story. hopew did you expect or this career was going to get off the ground? you, dear is the old adage we plan and god laughs. how did you think this career was going to get off the ground? graduated, ire i was on a plane to l.a. diarywriting in my visions for myself. really it was a bunch of adjectives, the kinds of roles i
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wanted to do of a woman coming to herself. i wanted to do something dramatic. different nouns and verbs to describe what i wanted to do and then it was answered immediately in patsey. for me, it is not so much specific planning. that is virtually impossible is an actor, to have specific plans. but having a sense of the kinds of spaces i wanted to enter. in ways i do and interested exploring the human experience. i think that is what i had written down. still what i used to use to navigate my choices in the future. i always envisioned working in film and in cedar. t heaheater.r -- they are not substitutes.
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what i love about theater is different than what i love about film. i enjoy the craft of both. your diaryriting in wednesday what you want, you had better get back to writing. it is working for you. her name is lupita nyong'o. she plays patsey in "12 years a slave." you have seen her everywhere. she has also become a bit of a fashion made in. everybody wants to know what she has on. all of that. you look very nice tonight. glad to have you on the program. thanks for watching and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with bruce dern about his performance in the film "nebraska. we will see you then.
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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(♪ theme music ) (♪) matt elmore: welcome to imagemakers a weekly showcase featuring the best short films from around the world. stay tuned and enjoy the filmmakers of tomorrow today on imagemakers. imagemakers is made possible in part by a grant from: celebrating the vitality and power of the moving image. and by the: (♪ banjo solo )

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